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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Medicare Message in Spanish

A Democratic ad in Spanish says Republicans "would end the Medicare guarantee." That requires context. Viewers might interpret the message to mean that Medicare would end completely. That's not the case. The ad refers to the system's guarantee of a certain level of benefits covered by the government.

[TET ] DNC ad, English translation: Behind the ads that pretend to care about our children, it's the Republicans who would end the Medicare guarantee while protecting tax cuts for the very rich. It was the president who extended health insurance for our children, financial aid for students and tax cuts for the middle class. We know who to trust, and who we can't. Because it's our job to protect our families. [/TET]

The ad — the Democratic National Committee's first of the 2012 campaign — was launched July 22 and will continue to air this week in Reno, Las Vegas, Tampa, Orlando, Miami, Denver, Albuquerque and the nation's capital, according to the DNC. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the DNC, mentioned the conservative group Crossroads GPS in announcing the launch of the ad, saying that group "is trying to hide the fact that the Republican Party would end Medicare as we know it to pay for tax cuts for the very rich." The claim mirrors an ad from the liberal Patriot Majority, which also said its aim was to combat messages from Crossroads, a group that is spending heavily this summer.

Under the GOP budget proposal from Rep. Paul Ryan, the current Medicare system, in which beneficiaries receive guaranteed benefits paid directly by the government, would change in 2022 to a program in which seniors receive subsidies to help them purchase private insurance. When we asked the DNC to explain the "guarantee" line, a spokeswoman sent us links to articles that used similar language. For instance, the Wall Street Journal reported on April 16:

Wall Street Journal, April 16: The federal health program would remain as a fee-for-service system with a guaranteed set of benefits for people now 55 and older.

In his most dramatic proposal, Mr. Ryan's plan would end Medicare's benefit guarantee in favor of having seniors choose among private health plans. The U.S. would subsidize the premium payments with an average payment starting at $8,000. That subsidy wouldn't be guaranteed to keep pace with the rate of health care inflation, leaving beneficiaries potentially to face growing out-of-pocket costs.

A New York Times May 28 editorial also said the Ryan plan was "famous for ending Medicare's guarantee," and a Kaiser Health News article said: "Expect many Democrats to oppose any effort to turn the Medicare program from its current structure, which guarantees a specific set of benefits, into a program that designates a specific amount of funding for beneficiaries." 

Fair enough — the Ryan plan scraps the guaranteed benefits at any cost system and replaces it with a subsidy program for private insurance. But we do think viewers need a bit more explanation of the plan than "would end the Medicare guarantee." The Medicare proposal — part of the GOP budget that passed the House but failed in the Senate earlier this year — would change Medicare to a private insurance program for new beneficiaries, starting in 2022. At that time, 65-year-olds would buy a plan from a new Medicare exchange with the help of a government subsidy. As we wrote in fact-checking the Patriot Majority TV spot, private plans offered on the Medicare exchange would be required to cover any senior who wanted to buy a policy and to charge the same rate for those of the same age. The insurance plans also would be required to include a standard set of benefits. We don't know what exactly those benefits would be.

The Ryan plan would be a dramatic change for Medicare — the Kaiser Health News article called it "the biggest change to the federal health insurance program for the elderly since its creation" — and it's expected to cost seniors more than the current program.

The DNC ad goes on to say that "[i]t was the president who extended … tax cuts for the middle class." True enough, but Republicans also favored that. A clear majority of GOP senators and representatives voted for the tax deal in December, which extended the Bush tax cuts for the "middle class," the "very rich" and those in between.

— Lori Robertson